The legacy of social news sharing in the digital era

ECUADOR-FACEBOOK : News Photo

“A computer screen showing a Facebook page, in Quito”. By: Rodrigo Buendia, Rights-managed

Introduction

With the advent of the Internet age, everything seems like it is just one click away where we are embedded with information flowing all over on our screens when we logged into social media. Social news sharing can be seen as a powerful extension that modifies mankind’s capacities to do anything as the general public can get access to a sea of knowledge. However, is this good news? This essay aims to uncover the realities under social news sharing that in fact, is a monopoly game. The essay will start off with a historical account of how social news sharing is born from a culture of demand for information and rampantly dominate the communications industry as well as the parties involved in this innovation as beneficiaries and victims and finally its implications.

A historical account of social news sharing

Starting from the need to be informed

Social news sharing is a practice in which internet users consume news in a digital platform that mirrored the same concept in which it is also a mediator of linking news producers, readers, and advertisers together. (Wilding, Fray, Molitorisz & McKewon, 2018, p.15). Given the pivotal importance of Facebook and Twitter presence in the news industry (Martin, 2019, 102 – 103 ), one must trace the foundation behind their success. The concept of social news sharing is stemmed from the notion of the need to be informed. Using Facebook as an example, its defining features of fostering authenticity via the encouragement of using real names, “adding” friends, modification of facebook’s layout via launching the “newsfeed” (Read, 2016) created a culture of sharing information as a by-product. This foreshadowed the observation that Martin made of the digital platform giants’ diverse branding of both a life updating platform and news hotspot (2019, p. 103)

Becoming the new trending leader of the communications media industry 

 Digital platforms are just another alternative medium as opposed to the traditional medium, for instance: television or radio to receive the news from (Wilding et al, 2018, p.15). Thus, social news sharing on a digital platform is not a novel concept. However, social news sharing in digital platforms could be seen as a powerful extension of the empowerment role it has conferred to the public as Martin and Dwyer explained how digital platforms revolutionized the power disparity of the process of newsmaking that was once restricted to the rich and gradually available to the proletariat in the digital era. 2019, p. 63-64).

Who gains and suffers?

Political aspect

Governmental institutions are one of the key beneficiaries of utilizing this social news sharing innovation in order to reach their political gains as Martin illustrated the digital platform’s or a netizen account’s survival is dependent on their obedience to the state in communism countries like China (2019, p. 114-115). Given that users’ overt attitude malleability is correlated to online sensationalized content (Kramer, Guillory & Hancock, 2014, p. 8789), this explains the amplification of news about the legacy of the Chinese medical frontlines sprouted over the Internet to nationalize the pandemic (Yan, 2020) and in Figure 1 down below. The depth of the data that is readily accessible explains why the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) can perfectly solidify their legitimacy which is evident in their actions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Figure 1: South China Morning Post’s “Nurses in Wuhan cut hair to fight against coronavirus outbreak” video. Source: South China Morning Post (standard YouTube license)

Economical aspect

Digital platforms are being able to immerse themselves into a continuity of economical prosperity on the basis of a nonchalant attitude on the societal and moral consequences digital platforms could lead to. This is evident in the example of Facebook’s scandal with Cambridge Analytica (Martin, 2019, p. 117), the lack of sincerity of how Facebook handles the situation which is evident in Facebook dodging legal liabilities (Cadwalladr & Graham-Harrison, 2018) is certainly unacceptable. The fact that Facebook’s postponing of conducting any actions to combat the problem and only after the incident is being caught red-handed (Cadwalladr & Graham-Harrison, 2018) further reflected the inability and complexity to track down their actions on time before a massive privacy breach. While social platforms did inform participants about the possibility of their data extraction yet being less transparent about it (Martin, 2019, p. 116), this incident reflected how digital platforms conduct immoral activities behind closed doors while enjoying economic success at the same time.

Social aspect

Users who used digital platforms to circulate news content are the victims of a deceitful recruitment culture that was set up by the owners of the digital platform. Extending on the argument that users might be consciously aware that they are promised with ambiguous rewards of “connectivity” from the affordances of social media platforms under the conditions of the unstated depth of data that could possibly be deprived (Martin, 2019, p. 95), I argued that the there is no exact rewards exchanged to users than rather as a bait to users in the case of social new sharing. As online news allocation has been preference-oriented meaning that users’ ability to develop a comprehensive perception of the society is, therefore, have refrained (Martin & Dweyer, 2019, p. 68) and this should not be considered as a “reward”.

Implications of social news sharing on my education 

The proliferation of tailored news content that is based on unreliable measurement (Martin & Dwyer, 2019, p. 74) severely hammered my critical thinking ability that is crucial for gaining knowledge which in turn impacted my digital literacy. To illustrate this argument, I would use the recent example of the chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In the midst of a public health crisis happening in the digital age lead to a series of news being circulated rampantly across the Internet about various bizarre “health advice” (Mara, 2020) and as shown in Figure 2 below. Rather than focusing on what the health advice is absurd or not, I was overwhelmed by the frequency of the “health advice” that has appeared in my newsfeed on Facebook and “likes” accompanied by expressive emoji reactions. Subsequently, I was convinced by those posts without proofreading nor proper verification. Safeguarding one’s health can already be fulfilled by this innovation of social news sharing instead of legitimate experts which is ridiculous. Martin & Dwyer has warned the discrepancies between the measurement of the social media metrics and the actual psychological attitudes users to have when viewing a post (2020, p. 75) yet these falsely captured illusions are repeatedly being deployed to determine editorial decisions (Martin & Dwyer, 2020, p. 68). Using the same theory into the incident of coronavirus, if a user was exposed to a possible fake coronavirus health advice news, he or she might forward to his or her peers as a joke, however, this action might be misunderstood by the news producers as the “health advice” as possibly be taken seriously and therefore affecting the news allocation towards users thus prompted me to act in an unwise way during a pandemic.

Figure 2: BBC News’ “Coronavirus: Tips to stop the spread of misinformation” video. Source: BBC News (standard YouTube license)

To sum up 

In conclusion, social news sharing may seem to be a harmless innovation however, it is just a monopoly game between the government institutions, digital platform owners, and the general public who are the users of those platforms. Social news sharing is just a title that enables the general public to have an illusion of what they thought they got benefitted from this convenience granted by the technology yet it is a means of sinister commercial and political agenda with the aversive impact of blinding us to think critically.

References:

Cadwalladr, C. & Graham- Harrison, E. (2018, March 18). Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/cambridge-analytica-facebook-influence-us-election

Kramer, A. D., Guillory, J. E., & Hancock, J. T. (2014). Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(24), 8788-8790.

Mara, D. (2020, May 4). Coronavirus fake news is being fuelled by the top and bottom of society, says Australian expert. SBS News. Retrieved from: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/coronavirus-fake-news-is-being-fuelled-by-the-top-and-bottom-of-society-says-australian-expert

Martin, F. (2019). The Business of News Sharing, In Sharing News Online: Commendary Cultures and Social media News Ecologies. F.Martin and T.Dwyer. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 91-127 

Martin, F. & Dwyer, T. (2019). The Numbers Game: Social News Analytics, In Sharing News Online: Commendary Cultures and Social media News Ecologies. F.Martin and T.Dwyer. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 61-90  

Read, A. (2016). A Brief History of Social Media (The Stuff You Probably Didn’t Already Know). Retrieved from the Buffer Stories website: https://stories.buffer.com/a-brief-history-of-social-media-the-stuff-you-probably-didnt-already-know-921fdd3a6e69#e1cf 

Wilding, D., Fray, P., Molitorisz, S. & McKewon, E. 2018, The Impact of Digital Platforms on News and Journalistic Content, University of Technology Sydney, NSW.

Yan, A. (2020, February 21). Chinese state media ‘humiliating’ women nurses in coronavirus propaganda campaign. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3051628/chinese-state-media-humiliating-women-nurses-coronavirus

Embedded references:

“A computer screen showing a Facebook page, in Quito” by Rodrigo Buendia is licensed with Rights-managed. To view a copy of this license, visit https://www.gettyimages.com.au/eula#RM

BBC News. (2020). Coronavirus: Tips to stop the spread of misinformation – BBC News. YouTube. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/mYsoH7Fiqbw 

South China Morning Post. (2020). Nurses in Wuhan cut hair to fight against coronavirus outbreak. YouTube. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/Lzk7-Kw-K4w

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(Submitted on 1st Nov 2020, 2 days extension granted by Harriet Flitcroft)

Man Kwan Cheung
About Man Kwan Cheung 3 Articles
Hi! My name is Jacqueline and I am majoring in Psychology and Digital Culture, currently in my second year. I aspired to incorporate my knowledge in Psychology into understanding the digital landscape, particularly in how a lot of the digital products we see in everyday life manipulates the psychological mechanisms humans have and shape our behavior.